Hailing from Durham, NC, dynamic duo Sylvan Esso returned at the end of September with their most liberated record yet, aptly titled Free Love. Just under thirty minutes long with ten tracks, Free Love burns brightly. The fiery spirit at its core is urgent and progressive at some moments (“Ring”, “Train”), and introspective and intimate at others (“Free”). In an era where hyper-production seems more and more like a rule, Nick Sanborn’s frenetic, industrial production never drowns out Amelia Meath’s voice. Instead, he flatters Meath’s woodsy voice with just the right amount of metallic casing, creating an irregular—but not jarring—effect. As the record progresses, it only becomes clearer that this duo knows when to thicken the sound and when to shake it empty.
Album opener “What If” is my personal favorite. In it, Meath anthropomorphizes memory, coaxing it to life as if pressing play on a tape recorder, the album itself also taking its first breaths. Shortly after, lead single “Ferris Wheel” calls the listener to the dance floor, where they remain for two more tracks until the record draws back for the extraordinarily quiet “Free,” where Meath recounts the vulnerability—and loss of control—that comes with being loved. Album highlight “Frequency” is queer, experimental, and subtly sensual—perfect for an afternoon in the park. Following it is “Runaway,” which darkly captures public anxiety around mass gun violence to the tune of the record’s most danceable melody. Sylvan Esso has always been able to grapple deftly with big themes, and “Runaway” is proof they haven’t lost that Midas touch. Album closer “Make It Easy” is the cherry on top: Meath’s voice modulates into resolution, ending on a command.
“Play it again,” she asks the listener. And so we shall.
Free Love is out everywhere.
Zhang is the Managing Editor and a sophomore in the SFS studying Business and Global Affairs.